The Grand Council of the Crees

Speaking Notes for Grand Chief Matthew Mukash on the Occasion of the Announcement of the Agreement for a New Relationship between the Government of Canada And the Crees of Eeyou Istchee

Speaking Notes for Grand Chief Matthew Mukash on the Occasion of the Announcement of the Agreement for a New Relationship between the Government of Canada And the Crees of Eeyou Istchee

Posted: 2007-07-16

Wachiya, Kwei.

I welcome all of you to this historic occasion. I welcome Minister Lawrence Cannon, whose Government under the direction of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Steven Harper saw to the implementation of these long outstanding obligations of Canada to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee.

Minister Cannon and Minister Jim Prentice were important supporters of this Agreement, when it was recently approved by Cabinet. I take this opportunity to thank the Government of Quebec through Premier Charest for their continued support and to complete the implementation of these obligations of Canada.

We will continue to work together with Quebec and Canada to participate in the governance negotiations which will follow this agreement.

I also welcome and thank Mr. Raymond Chr├ętien for his professional handling of the negotiations and I thank his team for their outstanding efforts. The Cree negotiation team headed by Mr. Bill Namagoose deserves special mention for the commitment and dedication for their hard work to realize this day.

Without the guidance, direction, and support from Deputy Grand Chief Iserhoff, the Crees Chiefs and members of the Grand Council of the Crees/Cree Regional Authority, this announcement would have not been possible.

Today, we have come a very long way since 1975 when we signed the first modern treaty, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. In 1984, we were the first to move beyond the Indian Act, for local self-governance regime we developed with Canada in the Cree-Naskapi Act. We have always worked hard to protect our way of life, the Cree language and culture and at the same time to fully participate and benefit in the development of our lands, Eeyou Istchee. We have developed a new relationship of cooperation and trust with Quebec and this agreement sets us on a similar path in regards to our new relationship with the Government of Canada.

We must remember that the negotiations for this new agreement dealt with the implementation of various outstanding issues with Canada stemming from the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. This agreement today is made possible because our former leaders adopted a principle that I have long supported, that the rights set out for the Crees in the 1975 treaty are the foundation upon which we must build our Cree Nation and as with all foundations none must ever be removed. I acknowledge the efforts of many individuals such as our elders and leaders at that time that brought the Crees together to protect our common interests so many years ago. Many of our elders are no longer with us and I honour them today. I also acknowledge the leadership over the years of former Grand Chiefs - Billy Diamond, Ted Moses, and Matthew Coon Come who had a vision and stood collectively for the rights of the Cree people.

The New Relationship Agreement with Canada that we announce today is new not only because it calls for the Crees themselves to implement certain of Canada's obligations to them under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement for a period of 20 years, but because Canada and the Crees are for the first time setting up governmental relations between us under which we as the Cree Nation decide our own priorities and policies in respect to local and Cree Nation government. This Agreement is a major step in allowing the Crees to assume greater authority in the development of their Nation.

Over the next three years, under the terms of this Agreement we will decide on a constitution for a Cree Nation Government and will undertake negotiations with the governments of Canada and Quebec towards the establishment of a new form of regional government. In the interim, we will function with a further empowered Cree Regional Authority to implement this Agreement.

The Agreement will be the subject of an information campaign to which we invite representatives of Canada to participate. This will be followed by a referendum, overseen by a joint Canada-Cree Referendum Committee, and to be held in the communities and elsewhere. The results of this should be available by sometime in the fall of this year.

The Cree Nation and the Government of Canada have worked together in a spirit of cooperation to resolve outstanding issues. We see what we have accomplished to date as a step forward by each Nation towards a new relationship. Meegwetch, Thank You, Merci!